Like what I’ve posted last week about my trip to Bicol, here I’m going to share about my very first trip on board an airplane. This was a trip back in June of 1999 to my father’s home province in the Visayas region on the island of Leyte.
My father along with his siblings were all born in the small town of Tabontabon in the province of Leyte in Eastern Visayas before they moved to Manila when they were older. And since back in the 90’s, my father together with one of her sisters have been flying back to Tabontabon once every year during the town’s fiesta to check out the parcels of land left by my grandmother. And in June 1999, my father tagged me to join them along with my cousin to fly over Leyte with them.
This was my first time to fly on an airplane. We took a Cebu Pacific Air flight to Tacloban City, the only major airport on the island of Leyte. Back then, Cebu Pacific was fairly new in the market where it only started it airline operations in 1996. There was even a joke then that when you fly on Cebu Pacific, you fly out from Cebu and arrive in the Pacific. The joke came out after some airplane crashes Cebu Pacific had in its early years along with the then Asian Spirit (now Zest Air) which got the joke of flying as an Asian and arriving as a Spirit.
But anyway, my father and aunt had been flying with Cebu Pacific for quite some time and they offer cheaper fare than the Philippines Airlines. And since this was my first airplane ride, same with my cousin Ronald, we were both excited. My cousin was even able to ask one of the flight attendants to have a picture with us. We also took some pictures with the airline upon landing in Tacloban. Though I don’t remember the flight any more, what I remember is that we had a great flight with Cebu Pacific as we have always had up until our recent flight to Manila.
And so anyway, from the Tacloban Airport (TAC) we took a jeepney ride for about two hours to Tabontabon. Well Tabontabon is a fifth class municipality which earns very little in a year and is home to less than 10,000 villagers as of 2010 Census. One distinct memory of mine of going to the town is that from the main highway we turned to a smaller road leading to the town center where in the road itself is segmented into paved cement to rough to paved cement to rough to paved. It was like when the road was built they only build it by section but not in a continuous manner. I’m not sure if today that road is already paved all the way through. The road had to pass through a lot of rice fields and some coconut farms.
Anyway, seeing the town marker announced that we reached our destination. It was only then that I realized that it was a very small town made of four barangays (villages) in the main town. It was so small that there is not much vehicular traffic in town except of a few cars, motorcycles, and carriages pulled by a carabao (water buffalo). Most people just walk to go to everywhere. Another is almost everyone in town knows each other.
On our way from Tacloban, someone from our jeepney even asked our driver to dropped something to the house of the local police which seemed everyone knows. My father toured us in town to the main plaza where next to it is the town hall, the house of the mayor, and a few meters away is the town’s church.
Everyone was busy that weekend in preparation of the town’s fiesta. I don’t remember which patron saint they were commemorating but everyone is busy preparing for something. Like at our relative’s place they killed 2 pigs if I remember it right. One to cook different dishes and another to cook lechon, a pig roasted on charcoal.
And that night there was a dance in the main plaza. My cousin and I went there to check it out. They were dancing some old music and a newer one back then, the Dayang Dayang song. It was an Indonesian song that played back then was a hit for the townsfolk. Well it was quite a famous song back then but kids in Manila will never dance into it.
My cousin and I being a tourist from Manila easily attracts attention specially to the teens in town. We were suddenly the cool kids in town. My cousin would even ask some of the local girls to have a photo with us.
Aside from the fiesta itself, one of our relatives was able to give us a tour of the nearby tourist places in Leyte. And we took the local mode of transport, the habal-habal. The habal-habal is basically a regular motorcycle that was modified to extend its seat to accommodate more passengers. The habal-habal that we rode can actually carry 7 up to 9 people. Habal-habal is quite a common transport in the provinces specially in mountainous areas where bigger vehicles cannot reach.
And so, he brought us to the town of Palo to see one historical marker. This was to see the MacArthur Landing Memorial Park. Since the departure of Spain in the Philippines, the Philippines became an American colony. And in 1942, Japan conquered the Philippines throughout WWII. Before Manila fell, General Douglas MacArthur, the Chief of Staff of the US Army back then was ordered by President Roosevelt to leave for Australia. It was then he left a very memorable word for the Filipinos, ‘I shall return’. And return he did in October 1944 with the 96th Infantry Division. He landed on the beach of Palo where he waded through knee-deep water ashore. On the same location, statues of him and some of his men were built to commemorate this event which started the liberation of the Philippines from Imperial Japan.
Then later on, we headed to one of architectural feats in the region, the San Juanico Bridge. It is the longest bridge ever built in the Philippines and it connects the island of Leyte with the island of Samar at 2.16 km in length. Well, my cousin and I would have wanted to cross the bridge to Samar island but our driver don’t dare go near the bridge so we were only able to get a glimpse of it from afar. Well, he’s afraid of the ‘witches’ from Samar. Well, the locals of Leyte believed that some people in Samar still perform witchcraft to inflict illnesses to people. And so we just headed back to Tacloban for a short time before heading back to Tabontabon.
Well overall, it was a fun time visiting my father’s relatives and seeing how life in the province is so simple. Well I hope one day I’ll be able to go back there and maybe spend more time seeing its other sites. And I guess and I hope it’s more developed there this time.